My name is Irfan. I came to Hong Kong from (South Asia) in February 2006 to save my life. Soon it will be 10 years and after many, many interviews the Immigration Department has never made a decision on my case: not accepted and not rejected. Why it takes so long? Is it the right way to treat refugees?
My duty lawyer said, “Your case is different. You have a very special case. Your case is genuine.” But I respectfully say, there are hundreds of refugees in Hong Kong who have real cases. Why so few win? Our life and our family’s life are wasted because we don’t have protection, we don’t have work and we don’t have normal life.
In 2007 and 2008 I had five or six interviews at Immigration office in Central. Some were from morning till night. The officers told me to wait 3 to 9 months for the decision – but nothing happened. My Torture claim was not decided and in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 nobody contacted me. I waited long time – but nobody called me.
When my USM interview started in 2014, I asked, “What was the decision from 2008?” But Immigration did not reply. They said, “Your case is strong and you must give interview one more time”. Is it fair that Immigration delay the decision on my case for 10 years without making a decision?
My lawyer said that Immigration cannot refuse my case, but why it takes so long? I came to Hong Kong because I have a problem. I like to save my life. I came when I was 21 and now I am 31 and nothing changed for me here. What do I have to do for my future? They don’t allow me to work and I am scared of breaking the law. Why Hong Kong Government treat refugees like this?
One day, my Immigration officer said, “You have waited a very long time. Sorry for this!” I answered, “The time I wasted will never come back. You consider how I spend my life, how I eat, how I live and how I suffer! If you (compensate me) for what I have lost, maybe I accept your sorry! I waited too long and I need my time back. But you cannot do that. Immigration just knows how to waste refugees’ time. I came to Hong Kong in February 2006 and now my hands are empty!”
I respectfully say to the Government: just give me the HK nationality, or let me work. If I do crime, you tell police that I am trouble. I have a baby. I am very stressed about my life. I want to do suicide, but I have to think about my family. If it is not allowed to give nationality, then allow me to do work. This is not criminal. My family is suffering. I don’t have money to help them. My daughter needs to go to school. I don’t have money. My daughter need shoes. I don’t have money. My wife needs clothes. I don’t have money. My ISS-HK case officer always says “You ask your friends”.
I came here to get a new life, but Hong Kong slowly poisons and kills me. Every moment, every minute I am suffering for what my wife and my daughter need. Immigration never give me response. The welfare is not enough. I always say this, but nobody listens to me. I cannot find mattress and bed for sleeping. I asked my ISS-HK case officer to help. She said “I will call you!” Almost going to be 6 months and she didn’t call me.
Hong Kong Government cannot protect or support me. Hong Kong Immigration make me slowly die, because they don’t give me freedom. I came here because I have a problem. But they don’t respect me, so I am not free. They tell me to sit – I must sit. They tell me to stand – I must stand. They say they help me, but how they help me? They just use the law to insult me. I say to the Government: Please give me permission to do work, so I can enjoy simple life with my family.
Vision First publishes letters and documents that our members wish to circulate to the wider public. In the best public interest, the following letter offers significant insights into the health of the current asylum mechanism and correlated issues. Hong Kong is a city of economic riches where business and profit are the prime engine upon which the government relies to retain the city’s international competitiveness. Are asylum policies integral elements supporting and/or removing impediments to economic growth?
Hong Kong is a paradise for bad people and hell for good people
I was a high profile political leader in a South Asian country. After 9/11 the USA and Western states decided to punish the militants involved with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. Our political party decided to stand with the so-called civilized world in the war against terrorism to defeat militancy. By doing so, party workers and leaders suffered great retaliation from several militant groups. As a result, over 1000 party members and relatives were killed by militants in kidnappings, suicide bombings and target killings. Further, some 10,000 party members and supporters fled abroad to save their lives from extreme brutality.
As per party policy, I also condemned the terror tactics of the militant groups in the local media and public meetings. By doing so, the militants turned their guns on me and my family, preventing me from attending my business and moving freely in my country. I received dozens of death threats by phone. I was beaten. My son was kidnapped and attempts were made to kidnap me too. The militants shot at me, my car and my home. Consequently, I lost my prosperous business and it became impossible for me to remain in my country.
Previously I had visited a number of European countries for business, but unfortunately when I decide to flee, I only had a Hong Kong visa, so I decided to take refuge here from the brutality of the militants. That was six years ago when I naively had the expectation that the Hong Kong Government and citizens would appreciate my sacrifice in the War Against Terror and help me stand back on my feet again.
But sorry to say that my expectations were ruined. After spending six years in Hong Kong, I am still in the same place where I started my journey. I have been maligned, humiliated, disrespected and forced to live like a beggar without future prospects. I provided all the necessary information and documents to the Immigration Department and requested them to please help me, but due to the Culture of Rejection my claim remains pending.
I also provided the same evidence to the UNHCR for my asylum claim, but they rejected it. It was only after five years suffering in Hong Kong that they turned around on their appeal rejection and unexpectedly granted me refugee status. Now I do not know how long I will further stay here before being re-settlement to a third country. One thing is notorious about Hong Kong: there is no appreciation or respect for the asylum seekers and refugees living here!
I have noticed that people come from all over the world and can live in Hong Kong for many years after obtaining a Recognizance certificate from the Immigration Department. I believe that getting such a document is very easy. After obtaining it, people can contact the ISS office to eat and live freely for many years.
As a politician and educated person I have noticed that the screening systems of Hong Kong Immigration is not fair, or just a joke. They do not make a difference between a HORSE and a DONKY and treat both the same way. This is the main reason that very large majority of torture claimants are fake and just come here to improve their financial conditions. I met many asylum seekers and torture claimants who are in Hong Kong for many years, they obtain fake ID and work with local businesses making good money.
I am sure this is the main reason for economic migrants to come to Hong Kong, when they know that they can stay free of cost for ten years and earn 15 to 20 thousand HKD per month. So surely one can say that “Hong Kong is a paradise for bad people and hell for good people”.
Through the publication of this letter I request to genuine asylum seekers not to come to Hong Kong to receive justice because there is no justice here. Yes, if you want to work and make money, then Hong Kong is the best place in the world, where you will obtain fake ID and make a fortune working for years.
Mr. Khan Zeb
My friends call me Manesh. I came to Hong Kong as a refugee in 2007 when the problems of asylum rolled over my like a black tide and drowned my hopes. This dark sea never lets me swim back to the surface and took away my dreams for a better future. Every day of asylum destroys a piece of me and my life loses meaning.
I suffered this pain for eight years and I cannot find a solution. I cannot return to my country, but also I cannot live here. So I feel that I am slowly dying. The memories of what I was before are swallowed by the darkness. I was a businessman, a political organizer, a loving father, a happy husband and a devoted son – everything was taken away from me.
Now I struggle to hold on to some dignity in asylum. It is not easy as humans need hope to support them through suffering and I have little left after eight years. The Hong Kong Immigration rejects 999 out of 1000 claimants and makes everyone feel unwanted and unwelcome. Refugees don’t get enough welfare and are not allowed to work, which turns us into professional beggars.
Refugees want a simple, safe life. We need security so that we are not worried that Immigration will send us back. We need jobs because work is important for human life – everyone understands it. Without work a person becomes sick, but we are not sick. Without work a person does not have a life, but we are not dead yet.
Truly I tell you, refugees live life in darkness. We never talk about any business or some big topic. We only talk about small things that give our lives very big problems like a cancer. For example, we don’t have enough money to pay rent. How to pay the landlord? We don’t have enough money for food. How to buy what we need to cook? We don’t have money for school books and uniforms. How to educate our children?
Here I tell you, refugee life is like prisoner life. We can walk the streets but we are trapped. We see people work, shop and enjoy, but we cannot earn money. If we do part-time jobs but are afraid of arrest and prison for 15 months. Then who will take care of our family? Some refugees fall into crime, but honestly what choice do we have? When they go to prison they are happy they don’t have to pay rent. Even somebody will cut their hair!
With respect I ask a question: Why for so many years the human rights for refugees were silent? Why nobody look at our condition of living and help to understand it is wrong? Today we hear a few voices from the same people fighting for refugee rights, but the community is silent. Are there two kind of human beings in Hong Kong, some with human rights and some without? I respectfully request that the government reconsider the policies and really protect refugees.
I am a refugee mother relying on welfare assistance because I am not allowed to work. In 2013 I had a very big problem finding a home so ISS lodged my family in a guesthouse. Safety was a priority as we had been threatened. It was difficult as we could not cook, wash clothes and did not receive any fresh foods. It was very hard for my daughter to eat canned food and noodles every meal.
We looked for a place to stay but ISS only gave us budget of 4500$. On 30 April 2014 we moved out of the guesthouse to an apartment in Hung Hom. It was a studio room with a small kitchen and bathroom. The big problem was the bathroom flooded when there was heavy rain. There were always cockroaches and a terrible smell coming out of the drain.
We wanted to move, but my case worker told us to wait a year to get the deposit back because they would not pay it again. We had to stay in that smelly room until April this year. Two months ago I reminded my case worker about my situation and she confirmed we could find a new place. The only decent rooms we could find were ‘over budget’, according to our case worker.
I had further difficulties because my daughter was accepted at a school in Wanchai, so living in Kowloon was too far away as I didn’t have bus money. My case worker was busy and said she had problems finding homes for many clients. She suggested we stay in the old smelly place for another year! That was unacceptable for us. I threatened to call the media and to protest with the Refugee Union, if she did not help me. I reminded her that in a year she hadn’t visited my room once, despite many promises.
The next day she visited my room with another officer. She noticed that there was no window, that my daughter played on the bed and the bathroom was stinky. She agreed, “You have to move out of this room. It is too small and it is very hot. I approve that you can find a new place”. We went to an agency that took us to see several flats for 5500$ in terrible condition. Later the agent showed me a flat for 6500$ which was OK. But ISS said it was over budget.
As my case worker wanted me to rent a damaged flat for 5500$ and didn’t want to increase the budget, I went to the Social Welfare Department Head-office to complain about the unfair treatment. The next day my case worker called, “OK we will get that 6500$ home for you!” By then the landlord had already rented it, but I was fortunate to find another clean room.
After I protested at SWD, my case worker immediately increased the rent budget and agreed to pay 2 months security deposit (it is usually 1 month), 1 month rent, agency fee and a truck to transfer our belongings. I learned that refugees have to struggle with the system to get better assistance, otherwise case workers will just give the minimum and not care about high rental prices. If I did not protest at the SWD and threaten to return with my Refugee Union comrades, my family would have been stuck in the stinky room, or perhaps homeless.
HKBU BJ HONOR PROJECT 2015 BY SANDY YEUNG
I am a refugee and I came to Hong Kong four years ago to save my life. After experiencing persecution and serious threats because of my professional work, I was forced to escape abroad. Some of my colleagues were killed.
I did not expect to suffer welfare problems when I reached the rich city of Hong Kong. We refugees are not allowed to work and depend on government assistance for all our needs. My inspiration for this cartoon is that I want to advocate for refugees and explain the life we suffer.
I believe that the public funding does not reach the needy, both residents and foreigners. My humble experience tells me that the SWD does not know how to manage refugees and fails to respond to our complaints all the time. I want to create public awareness about this treatment. My first target audience is everybody who cares about justice in Hong Kong. My second audience is tax-payers who should request accountability from their government.
Hong Kong is a market place. It is a great Asian city that became wealthy, has security and prosperity and offers great opportunities to residents and foreigners with visas. The government is rich because they receive many taxes, duties from stock market and payments from tourism and foreign investment. But society is kept in the dark. People don’t open their eyes because of a culture that prioritizes who you are, what is your job and how much money you earn.
Now is a time when Hong Kong people are talking about their future and democracy. But before you talk about democracy you need to talk about human rights and values because everyone is equal and deserves respect. I think there are predator people who are taking advantage of the sleepiness of society and the bad management of the government. I believe there are predators taking advantage of refugees too.
There is a lot of aid flowing into the government, but very little reaches refugees. Take refugee food allowances for example: refugees receive only 40% of the value! We should collect 1200$ in food, but I calculated my collections are worth 680$ maximum, or 400$ minimum, depending on which shops I compare prices. I complained for months to those responsible, but is anyone listening?
After five years of deep emotional and economic suffering in Hong Kong, on 15 January 2015 Ali was rushed to the hospital with pain in his chest. He recalls, “The medical officer informed me that one of my heart vessels is blocked. They (need to perform an) angioplasty to fix a stent in the blocked vain. But I have to pay 20,000 HK$ myself as the stent is not available from the hospital (free for refugees). I told him that due to my status, it is not possible for me to pay such a huge amount … ISS case worker and UNHCR said sorry that we do not have funds for that purpose.”
Who is Ali? Ali is a 62 year-old recognized refugee from Pakistan in Hong Kong since January 2010. He spent several winters freezing in a container abandoned in a Kam Tin recycling yard. In the summer his home became unbearably hot. Before rental deposits were introduced for refugees, Ali accepted such limited hospitality from residents offering temporary shelter. By living in a possible illegal work place, the Pakistani defied the common assumption that his countrymen abused asylum to work in Hong Kong.
For five years, Vision First followed closely Ali’s asylum experiences in our inhospitable city.
Ali feels betrayed by Hong Kong’s promises of protection, “In January 2010 I left my country, business, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives hoping that Hong Kong Government and UNHCR will appreciate our sacrifices in the war against terrorism by opening their hearts and help us in standing again on our feet. But all our expectations were ruined by the different functionaries of the government and UNHCR.”
In May 2011 the Immigration Department rejected Ali’s torture claim at appeal. He was stoically terse, “It is a childish decision!” The rejection by UNHCR in December 2012 was traumatizing, as it crushed his trust in the international agency. When Legal Aid rejected his application to judicially review his CAT rejection, the disheartened family man hit rock bottom. Sick and depressed, Ali seemed on the verge of giving up more than his bid for asylum. In those dark days, only family thoughts kept him going, “I have many burdens with my family. How can I help them? The whole family is looking to me. They are stuck. They want to know when they can come and join me.”
Conspiracists might be forgiven for speculating about the baffling backpedaling by UNHCR which unexpectedly confirmed his status as a refugee on 29 April 2014. It might not be a coincidence that Ali’s lawyers had reversed the Legal Aid decision and prepared a well-document, arguable case that might have forced Immigration to reconsider its decision. Ali suspects that the government put pressure on UNHCR to resolve his claim and stop legal proceedings.
At the time he was hospitalized, Ali was informed that since his condition had not reached a ‘life threatening state’, the hospital could not proceed with free surgery and he would have to pay for the stent himself. Five years in limbo without the right to work dilapidated Ali personal resources. Today he is truly destitute. ISS-HK referred him to SWD which unempathically stated that they would not pay until his condition deteriorated.
Let’s face it. Ali has been treated poorly from the day he arrived and was reduced to living in a shipping container for years. His family was displaced and fell from relative prosperity to grim poverty. Now Ali spends the days bedridden in a room that appears to be an illegal structure. He is afraid his heart will fail overnight. He hardly dares to walk outside for fear of collapsing in the street, which ironically might be the only chance he has to receive the necessary surgery.
Hospitals, ISS-HK and SWD kick away responsibility like a ball. Is it reasonable to ask a sick refugee to raise money himself to save his life despite being granted international protection? What meaning does the status of refugee carry for UNHCR, ISS-HK, SWD and the government? Who will be held accountable in a worst case scenario for such absurd conditions of institutional punitive confinement? Hong Kong should step up and honor Ali’s protection with the peace of mind and wellbeing it ought to entail.
I jumped out of a back room window when the police came to my home to arrest me a second time. I had been detained, questioned and tortured before, but refused to stop campaigning at university against state violence and abuse of human rights. The voice inside me was too strong. I could not keep quiet about injustice and I paid dearly for it. I have been in exile in Hong Kong for 9 years.
Recently in Chung King Mansions a student asked me why refugees exploit the liberal visa regime and abuse the asylum system to work illegally (economic interest) and sometimes to sell drugs (criminal interest). What needs to be understood is how the system forces people into these directions by denying the right to work, failing to provide enough assistance and jailing refugees 15 months for working and 7 months for selling drugs. Isn’t this entrapment?
Refugees in Hong Kong are dehumanized, denied basic human rights, don’t get enough support to survive, no proper accommodation, not enough food … people in this kind of situation must find a way to survive and sometimes the easier way is the illegal one. It is not refugees who are abusing the system, but the system that is abusing refugees. Then the government conveniently brands refugees as deviant, as threats to society, when in fact refugees have no legal direction.
I was talking to a resident who agreed that refugees do not engage in serious crime, generally speaking. It is low level offences that hardly register with the public. True criminals don’t need this process, they have better, more lucrative and sophisticated ways to achieve bigger objectives. The crimes that vulnerable refugees commit are worth a few hundred dollars, or thousand at best. It is money we desperately need to pay rent, buy food, clothes and other necessities.
It is very important for people to understand this. Refugees are forced to commit crime. It is typically not their character. They did not come here to be criminals. For example I need money to pay rent. I moved into a windowless room in Mongkok the size of a single bed. I cannot keep a fridge inside and it cost 2000 HK$. I told my ISS-HK caseworker that he must pay the full amount because I cannot work. He refused saying that 1500$ was the maximum and I had to find the rest myself. Suffering these indignity day in and day inflicts a deep wound on our sense of identity.
When I analyze the problem, I realize that it is political and hard to explain people like the student. She thinks that most refugees are economic migrants as that is what she read. She has been exposed to government propaganda that protects vested interests and does not respect the rights of non-citizens. It is hard for people who didn’t suffer state violations to understand state protection failures.
When you meet somebody in Hong Kong within five minutes they ask, “What is your job?” They are appraising your net-worth, how much money you make. Socrates said that first you have to teach citizens values. Hong Kong should create worthy people, not just release them into a capitalistic battlefield where they fight against each other for a piece of the pie. Citizens should learn about social values and appreciated that every person is valuable, even refugees. That’s how I see it.